How three questions will ensure you choose the right print supplier

A friend of mine was really disappointed recently.

They had chosen a new phone.  And when the phone arrived it didn’t have some of the functionality that my friend expected.  My friend was sure that they would be able to sort their e-mails in the way that they wanted.  And this wasn’t the case at all.

If only my friend had asked the right questions before choosing their phone.

Print buyers need to ask the right questions too

Whether you’re choosing a phone or a print supplier, you need to ask the right questions

Print buyers who ask the right questions when choosing suppliers can form good partnerships.  Partnerships that won’t be spoiled by some nasty surprises.  They can be sure that their suppliers will be able to achieve what the buyer needs.

Print buyers who don’t ask the right evaluation questions can’t rely on their suppliers.  The suppliers may not be capable of achieving the buyer’s requirements.  And that sense of uncertainty makes it difficult to create a good partnership.

What are the right questions to ask?

Your question list should be unique to you.  After all, your requirements will be different to other buyers’.  You should think carefully about what you need to know about your suppliers.  It is likely that your list of questions will develop over the years.

However, there are certain questions that you should be asking all you printers.  I have focussed on three.  Here’s the first one:

What is the percentage of turnover of your three largest clients?

Printing companies sometimes don’t want to reveal the names of their largest clients.  And that’s fine.  This question doesn’t require that.  All you need to know is how much work those three largest clients are placing.

Why is this important?  This question ensures that you don’t engage with a supplier that has all their eggs in one basket.  Suppose a print company had 40% of their turnover from one customer.  What would happen if that customer left?  As a general rule, I start asking questions if any clients have more that 15% of turnover.

And if they do, it is not automatically the case that I won’t use the printer.  Their turnover may be guaranteed by a long-term contract.  But it is important that the buyer understands how dependent their print companies are on individual customers.

But they also need to be aware of how the company performs.  And here’s a question that deals with this issue.

What is your percentage of on-time delivery?

You need to know if you will get your jobs ion time.  You need to know if your supplier is organised.  And this question is a great way to find this out.

I actually get suspicious if the answer is 100%.  Most companies are not perfect all the time.  And I trust those that measure their manufacturing.  And are honest with their customers about the results.

When you have the answer you can always follow this up by asking how they created the figure.  Organised printing companies will be able to show you a full record keeping process.  Less organised companies may struggle.

And they may struggle with the next questions as well.

Outline your quality control systems

It is important to understand how a print company achieves the quality that it says it does.  How scientific are they in creating quality.  Or is it just reliant on the eye of the machine minder checking when they feel like it?

Many companies will be certified to ISO9001, the international quality control standard.  Note that you are allowed to set your own quality standards with this certification.  So it is not a guarantee of good quality.  It merely shows that a company has a system for measuring consistent quality.

It is much better to ask a printer to fully explain what they do to ensure quality.  And they need to explain their quality processes for finishing and despatch, as well as print.

And that is the last of the three questions.  They will give you a good idea of the sort of supplier that you are thinking about working with.

Is that really all you need to ask a print company?

These are just three questions that you should use.  They are highly effective.  But they are not the only three that you should ask.  The more questions that you ask, the more you will find out about your supplier.

But you also need to ask the questions as part of a process.  These questions form part of the 1-2-3-4 supplier evaluation process.  Later on in the process, if you still want to work with the printer, you will need to visit the factory.

And there’s a reason for this.

You need to make sure you see the print company in action

You need to make sure that you see their delivery records.  And you need to make sure that you see their quality control processes in action.

I once went to a print company who had answered these questions really well.  But when I arrived at the factory I saw a different picture.  They didn’t do anything that they had said they did when they answered the questions.

But factory visits are at the end of the process.  You need to think about your questions first.

Here are three things you should do to get going

  1. Write down these three questions in your own words
  2. Add them to your supplier evaluation form
  3. Ask them to your current suppliers, as well as potential new suppliers

Then you can be sure that you’ll be getting exactly what you wanted from your supplier.  And because I know what I get from my suppliers I have more time.  Time to help my friend go and choose another phone…
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